Origin And History Of Tarot

When people think of Tarot cards, they often imagine gypsies using them to predict the future and tell the fortune of customers who have crossed their palm with a silver coin. Such romantic ideas may be based on truth, as it is thought that the earliest form of Tarot cards were probably introduced by gypsies into Europe in the fourteenth century when they migrated periodically to the west. In addition, there are claims that the history of Tarot may have extend back to ancient Egypt, India and even China.

Many claim that Tarot cards got their name from Tarocchi, an Italian game developed in the fifteenth century. The word ‘tarot’ is thought to be the French translation of the Italian word ‘tarocchi’. Tarocchi consisted of twenty-two cards depicting ‘trionfi’, known in English as trumps, plus four suits of cards, each containing fourteen cards in total. However, the French Tarot deck contained a 78-card complement. Buy Tarot Cards - New And Used - Online Whether you called it Tarocchi or Tarot, what is clear is that these card decks were the forerunners of the typical card deck we use today to play any number of games as well as the classic, mystical tarot we see today.

The earliest form of playing cards are thought to have originated in Egypt in the twelfth century. Similar cards were also discovered in China, leading to speculation that China may be the ultimate source of Tarot Cards. It is those tarot cards from Egypt that most closely resemble the playing cards of today. However, there is no evidence that they were used for prophetic purposes at that time. Even though there seems no concrete evidence of a mystical use of the earliest forms of playing cards, it seems to defy common sense that these unique cards were not being used by some for divination. As far back as the written history of Tarot goes, there are stories, hints, the of the cards were being used for divination.

As early as 1432, conventional playing cards were frowned upon by the church and thought to be Satan’s creation. In 1570, playing cards were sometimes banned, as the church proclaimed that tarot encouraged people to worship fake gods. However, possibly because the upper classes favored the Tarot, Tarot cards continued to be produced and managed to survive such bans. It is almost as if Tarot cards (as a form of divination) survived because the earliest tarot cards could also be used for simple card games of chance. Cartomancy is one of the oldest of the more common forms of fortune-telling and it is based on the basic playing cards that can be found in most home today (and, of course, any casino).

Bonifacio Bembo, an Italian painter and miniaturist form the early Renaissance period, is said to have hand-painted the original Visconti-Sforza tarot deck, which is considered one of the oldest, semi-complete Tarot decks in the world. Bembo was interested in Neoplatism, otherwise known as Platonic philosophy, that arose in the 3rd century. This mystical form of Greek philosophy no doubt influenced the images he designed for the cards and the meanings behind them. The twenty-two trumps in Tarocchi depict different types of people from within the medieval period, or moral lessons. Though one might think the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck is only a ‘card game deck’, there is clearly a connection to the mystical through the painter himself.

Contemporary Tarot decks are thought to have French origins and stem from the Tarot of Marseilles, which has twenty-two trumps and seventy-eight cards. In fact, an uncut sheet of cards known as the Cary Sheet, which can be found at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, shows links with the illustrations used in the Marseilles Tarot that go back to roughly the 1500s. Fifty years or so before the Cary Sheet was printed, there is documentation that fortune telling using cartomancy was rising in popularity in Spain. Eventually, the Tarot became more widely associated with the spiritual realm, and yet ‘playing cards’ continued to be popular world wide. To be clear, Tarot and ‘playing cards’ have evolved from the same source.

A theory has been put forward that ancient Egyptian priests developed the Tarot ‘games’ in order to hide important knowledge that Tarot cards had a mystical use in divination, especially since Tarot cards depicted spiritual symbols and held philosophical, mythical and possibly esoteric meanings.

Another theory put forth is that Tarot cards are associated with the mysticism of the Cabala (sometimes called Kabbalah or Kabala). The Cabala is ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible, first transmitted orally and using esoteric methods. One of the oldest Tarot decks, The Tarocchi, has 22 trumps, just like the Hebrew alphabet. In addition, it is thought that the Bembo’s Visconti-Sforza tarot cards (mentioned previously as one of the oldest known tarot decks) hold four court cards that might represent YHVH, the name of God. Also, each suit of the Visconti-Sforza tarot cards has cards from one to ten which could can be significant within the Cabala. Some expert occultists assert that the Tarot originated in 1300 AD in Morocco and stems from a grand conference held by Cabalists. However, as yet, there is no hard evidence to support this theory.

For modern Tarot, the biggest change were brought about by Arthur Edward Waite and Alister Crowley, both mystics and occultist who each developed unique tarot decks and provided instructions on how these decks could be used for divination. Arthur Edward Waite (1857 – 1942) was a renowned Christian mystic and occultist, which explains many of the early Christian images on the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck which Waite co-created. The actual original artwork was by Pamela Colman Smith based on Waite’s designs. Alister Crowley (1875 – 1947) was a much darker character who generated a good deal of controversy in his time. Crowley created the Thoth Tarot Deck which took him 5 years to complete. The Rider-Waite tarot deck and Thoth tarot deck are the two of the biggest selling tarot decks in history. These two tarot decks pretty much set the standard for all tarot decks that followed in the English speaking world.

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Interestingly, both men, at one time or another, belonged to a secrete occult organization called the Golden Dawn.

Tarot is shrouded in mystery. What evidence we do have indicates that the nomadic gypsies and merchants traveling from the East spread Tarot throughout Europe. Exactly when and where Tarot became method of divination (or if it was always used as a form of divination)) is impossible to say at this time. We know that Tarot cards and today’s standard playing cards arose from the same source. There is cause to believe that variations of tarot cards and games utilizing the cards sprang-up in several places at once. No one can prove that he or she has a definitive answer as to the birthplace of the Tarot. We know Tarot cards, used as a method of divination, has been around for hundreds of years. And, Tarot has grown ever more popular as time has passed.

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